Tommy Jarrell Celebrated

First Posted: 2/23/2009

In 2001, the year of the late Tommy Jarrells 100th birthday, the Surry Arts Council begin organizing the Tommy Jarrell Festival.
Saturday will kick off the 8th annual festival that will include two days of jam sessions, lectures, music, film, dancing, instrument makers, youth talent and tours of Mount Airy.
The festival is the result of a well-attended birthday celebration honoring the memory of fiddler and Surry County native Tommy Jarrell, who was born March 1, 1901 at the foot of Fisher Peak and raised in the Round Peak area.
He was one of the areas most famous old-time musicians.
According to the Old-time Fiddlers Hall of Fame, Jarrell grew up playing dances or workings all over Round Peak. Workings included wood choppings, barn raisings, apple peelings, bean stringings and corn shucking.
Jarrell and his family later lived on the South Franklin road in the Toast community of Mount Airy. He was an employee with the North Carolina Department of Transportation for 41 years.
By 1975, the year he died, he had recorded seven albums and traveled extensively throughout the United States
During the later years of his life, Tommy was sort of an ambassador of this regions musical heritage, said Lew Bode, who will be the master of ceremonies at the festival. There were many people who came from throughout the country and beyond to stay with Tommy at his home for days at a time in order to learn the music, his style, and the styles of other local old time musicians.
The festival will commence with a special screening of Sprout Wings and Fly at the Downtown Cinema Theatre Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. The film is a documentary made about Jarrell by Les Blank, Alice Gerard and Cece Conway.
The festival will continue with a dance on the Andy Griffith Playhouse Stage at 7 p.m. Friday. Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys and the Slate Mountain Ramblers will play old-time music, and Jarrells son, Wayne Jarrell, will be on hand to call the dance.
The dance is a time to learn to dance to old-time music if you havent ever, said Tanya Jones, the executive director of the arts council.
The festival will follow through Feb. 28 with an old-time fiddle demonstration by Kirk Sutphin at the Mount Airy Visitors Center on North Main Street, guitarist Willard Gayheart at The Good Life Caf on North Main Street, and a Youth Old-time Talent Competition at the Playhouse. There will also be a special Tommy Jarrell Birthday Concert held Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Playhouse.
The celebration will be hosted by Bode, and include performances by Kirk Sutphin, Kevin and Trish Fore, Ira Bernstein and Riley Baugus, Slate Mountain Ramblers, Benton Flippen and the Smokey Valley Boys, The Toast String Stretchers and Back Step. Tickets for the birthday celebration are $10.
Folks will get to hear the best old-time musicians in the area at the concert. This is one of the only times of the year that they are all on stage together, Jones said. Ira Bernstein is awesome and will be hosting/teaching a free workshop on stage at the festival. The Cinema will be showing movies that demonstrate Tommys role in the old-time music world and also his unique style of playing.
Cake will also be served at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on March 1 with a small concert led by Chester McMillian, an old-time guitarist who played with Jarrell.
Old time music and the Round Peak style that Tommy and many other musicians are famous for is part of Surry Countys heritage and it is important to keep it going by celebrating Tommys contribution to the music and by doing so, keep the level of interest high among aspiring young musicians, Bode said. That is why the youth competition that will precede the Saturday night show is a very important part of the festival.
The Youth Old-time Talent Competition will take place Feb. 28 at the Playhouse. The event features old-time fiddle, clawhammer banjo, dance, and vocal categories. Two age groups of youth musicians (ages 5-12 and 13-18) will compete for cash prizes. The competition starts at 5:30 p.m. and there is no registration fee.
To register contact the Surry Arts Council at 786-7998 or toll free at 800-286-6193. Winners will be announced during the Tommy Jarrell Concert which begins at 7 p.m.. that evening.
For more information on all festival events, contact the Surry Arts Council or visit
Contact Erin C. Perkins at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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